Friday, April 29, 2011

Weird Rules For Developers and Designers to Live By

Here are some of my odd rules for how to prevent angst in your web design business. Angst usually comes from billing and contract woes. There are the classic rules: work hard, design well, follow good practices, check out these sites, etc.. Those are all good practices. But here are some canaries in the coal mine of my experiences. Here are weird words about how I see the business of web design and the warning signs that appear by the side of the road.

A Contract Is More Important Than Money
An hour of work takes an hour for a surgeon, a ditch digger or a web designer. But some people have a weird dynamic with web designers-- treating them like something between a shaman and a vagrant-- not just a person with a technical command and creative spark. To normalize the situation draw up a contract for use. A contract is a nice piece of paper to have to spell out boundaries. It can be walked into a courtroom (see below). But more importantly, it’s a sniff test: if someone won’t sign a contract, then they don’t like playing by rules. Think about how a renegade will react when handed an invoice. Or if they pile work on you and spike the budget. If you can’t get them to sign a contract, you may find them unwilling to pay.

Never Do Business In An Apartment
As a gun for hire, you have to work in different places, meet in a variety of places and meet at a variety of places. I have met at coffee shops, people’s homes, company offices, cabins in the woods and apartments. The location can be a giveaway to who you’re dealing with. Homes say two things: I’m trusted enough to have a home and/or I may have enough money to afford a home. Offices are fine-- it’s all business. Coffee shops say, “maybe I don’t have it all together, but at least I know that.” An apartment may say a few things: “I live month-to-month” or “I don’t make a lot of money”. It could be baseless, but ask: do want to work with someone who makes short term commitments and doesn’t have money to spare? If your clients are new to you, you have to go by some slim evidence that verges on clairvoyance. I've found that deals done in apartments seem to always go south, eventually.

Don’t Walk Through The Valley of Death
Any bad debt is theft by a deadbeat. If they didn’t want to pay, they could have opted to not have the work done. Despite having worked for a thief, you have to be pragmatic about the debt. If someone doesn’t want to pay, they may be able to weasel their way out of settling up and the time it could take to recover your money could be huge. What are you: a designer or a debt collector?
There is the valley of death for financial commitments. When you do work, you need to either be able to walk away from the money if the bill becomes unrecoverable; or you need to be able to hand the bill to a lawyer for recovery. A lawyer recently told me that a demand letter and resulting correspondence would run in excess of $500. If I’m owed $400, there’s no point in siccing a lawyer on the guy. But, I can’t start missing $400 volleys of cash, either. So, the approach is to push bills out of that valley: too little to sue for; and too much to swallow. In my economy, those are bills from $200 to $1000. I can make up for $200 rogering but working harder. Likewise, I can pay for a small claims action on a $1000 debt. Those bills in between could really hurt a designer and you try to avoid them by either driving for a quick and inexpensive solution, or gunning for a larger volley of work.

Pass On The Savings And The Expenses
When I started doing designs, I had to craft the site from scratch. Fourteen years later and the game has gotten much easier. A CMS used to be very hard to pull off on the cheap. Popular CMS products make it very easy to install a full interactive web site and do so easily. With Facebook, you can get a “Page” for free in little time. Want a discussion group: make one at Ning. The day and age of getting a bunch of students to throw a site together for $5000 are over.
With Drupal, Wordpress, etc.. I can get to a “Hello World” of a web site in well under an hour. With templates and modules or plugins, a regular website can be turned out in 8 or 10 hours. The basic design should be charged fairly (eg. a low amount), then you can add on services that are harder to click and install: good copywriting; good graphic design; good navigation/architecture, custom coding; and good SEO.

Work On Your Own Million Dollar Idea For Free, Not Someone Else’s
I get this every couple weeks: “I have great idea for a website-- if you design and program it, I’ll give you 50% of the business.” No money up front. Imagine asking a carpenter to build a house for free.
This “It’s just a button” disease has evolved: recently, a designer was offered one of these projects but the designer had to give them the answer by the end of business if they were on board or not. So: you’re rushing me to take on unpaid work?
Sometimes you will find a guy who comes to table with something valuable-- maybe they’re a marketing genius with a long track record of success. You have to assess if a partner is worth teaming with. A million dollar idea that isn’t made is worth $0. If you are bringing that site into reality, your partner has to bring $500,000 worth of value to his $1M idea or they aren’t worth your time.
Here’s a little secret about most of the big websites out there: many of the big ones were built by techies on their own, then money people became attracted later. If a money guy is coming to you to build a site for no money up front that’s like putting the cart before the horse.
If you’re a professional, you should always get paid. I usually counter the “we’ll split it” with “it won’t be expensive to design, so getting the money should be easy, then you can keep most of your million dollars”-- after all, who wouldn’t spend $10k to get a million if they had a sure bet? The truth is, they want you to lose $10k in your billings so that they can reap a half million It's not a good prospect for you.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I have been working in web development for about 14 years and change. They say that the 24x7 nature of the Internet makes events on the Internet run at three times speed. Quick math says that my 14 yrs mean 42 years of wear-and-tear.
The last eight years have been divided amongst three full-time employers and a smattering of side gigs. The day jobs have swallowed up my free-time. The Internet is a sickly baby worthy of kidnapping. It's always in jeopardy or near jeopardy. The only way a website is safe from hacking, heavy traffic, logic holes is when it's not visited. Weekdays go into the work at hand. Nights go into the emergencies; and so do the weekends. I have had people email me on Christmas Eve that they need their site looked at.
I know more about the web and my array of languages (PHP, HTML, MySQL, Ajax, JQuery, etc.) than a lot of people. I've outlasted others in the field. My performance in the marathon may not be stellar, but I did all 26 miles.
I am heading back into the world of self-employed consulting. The IT and consulting landscape has changed from the 2003 era when I last had both feet in the self-employment domain, but I am cautious optimistic. This time I had a new plan for how to pull it off. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egyptians Are Trying To Tell Us Why Facebook Should Not Replace The Internet

If you could post from Egypt to Facebook today, maybe you'd ask, "When did the Internet break?"
The Internet rose up from DARPAnet to be a network of computers immune to widespread outage (eg. versus a nuclear attack from the Ruskies). It's made to use available pathways until finds it a route from A to B. When things are bad, you have a lot of hops between A and B to circumvent the damage-- to the point where your routing takes forever and maybe gives up. You can block access to specific servers, or increasingly larger blocks of addresses as to try to shut down the message. If an enemy is trying to block access to something that proliferates (like a blog post that gets shared around), it has to try to plug all of these holes to accomplish that. It's difficult. If pernicious enough, it's impossible. Or, least it used to be.
The Internet has been about getting big while satisfying everyone. That's what the long tail about: getting your message to your peeps out there no matter who those peeps are. Along the way, spreading the message was made easier through Twitter and Facebook. Facebook, with 600 million-plus users is almost the Internet itself. People use it to communicate. They blog "Notes" through it. They send around messages. They post pics and videos. They share links. They build communities. All of the world of functionality-- that used to be picked up by a pluralistic bedlam of the World Wide Web-- it's all done by Facebook. You can log onto Facebook and just stay tuned into that one "channel." For an Internet guy, the future seems bleak: Facebook has all the marbles.
People tuned into food security warn about the use of mono-crops. A well cloned potato used throughout Europe led to the Great Potato Famine. Farmers will have to switch up to a different banana strain before the current strain fails altogether. Mono-crops make for a single point of failure. Diversity and pluralism of plants or farm animals is required or else one widespread weakness can be exploited and affect all of the organisms. Think of the goldmine that Facebook presents to hackers: they can get three times more data by raiding Facebook than they can by raiding the IRS database.
Our world is increasingly reliant on the Internet. Anyone who tells you that the world is now networked-- like we've only had wires since 1993-- is naive. Since the days of the telegraph, we've been using a world wide network to carry out business and communication. Telephones, teletypes, fax machines, EDI, etc..-- they've all been used to transmit critical data. The switch to the Internet is the difference: it allows for more dynamic connections and more data and it was more resistant to attack because it didn't hinge on your phone line. Theoretically, the nuke-proof Internet is a better transportation medium. Few countries would consider cutting their national phone lines. Because the Internet conduits business relevant in and around Egypt, Egypt cannot start switch off routers, ISPs and the big "pipe" that runs the Internet into the country. It would be suicide for the government; and a smothering of their business services. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, they don't need to kill the Internet to cut people off from the Internet. Clip two sites and some of their satelites and you have it squashed.
Twitter has it figured out. Their API is will used by HootSuite and a host of other services to both digest, store and post data to Twitter. They have it right. Facebook is a walled garden: data gets in, but it doesn't get out. People like that, but this clustering of services under the umbrella of relatively few sites has made for a dangerous situation. By the nature of the Internet, shutting down access is like catching smoke. The Web will find a way. A post you put "out there" will be cached by other sites and users. Email will queue up and re-try. Your usenet post would have proliferated. Little of that happens with Facebook. Twenty years of good, durable technical practices have been undone by a bunch hoodied hipsters. I heard an engineer for NowPublic chortle about users comments and he mocked people who complained that their comments didn't appear or were lost. The idea that data can be lost and that's okay is both essential to allow the Internet to grow and toxic to its growth-- like a politician who has to abandon his morals to win an election. It also means that material you put out there can either be stuck inside of a walled garden (Facebook) or inside of a site/system that lives with low-grade Alzheimer's (Twitter) and some favoritism (eg. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks trending gets squelched by unaccountable Twitter). By relying on Facebook and Twitter, users are putting their hopes in two sites. By blocking one site, you can shut down access between your people and six hundred million people, their data and coordination. The accretion of traffic to a handful of sites (this includes Google, eBay and the other popular sites) undoes the brilliance of what the Internet sought to achieve: a network resistant to attacks and robust vs. attempts to cut people off from each other. We've given up durability to get convenience. I hope we "Like" it that way. More on the problem with Facebook and Twitter replacing your Internet.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Here's My Conundrum

I am trying to parse the content in this page, ( to get the list elements and which list they appear in.
The right sided lists are straight forward-- one link per list. It's kind of straight forward. The list on the left side is trickier.

Because the links are buried inside of layers of DIV tags and styling, I can't see a way to compare the blocks beside each other and know if they are part of the same list and isolate each block of code relevant to one specific link. For the bonus round, these stylings may duck and weave-- if they change a little, I need to apply the same logic at the HTML to find out the relevance of the code and where it is in the document.
I want to be able to fish out these elements and end up with an array of items in one list (one area). How can I know how many regions I have?
Anyone have any bright ideas? What to show off your smarts? Want a contract to do this: set up the logic to read a page, find its lists, pull those out and isolate each item in a cell in an array specific to the whole a particular list?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Categories and Tags in Wordpress

In case you weren't in our WordCamp Victoria class today, here's a run through of our presentation:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

By 2015, The Free Internet Will Be Totally Gone

The BBC has a great piece about how the US is going to regulate the Internet into being a sanitized corporate tool. Ten years ago, we didn't think porno-scanners and surrendering nail clippers would be common place at airports. I think in five years, we'll all be comfortable with a China-style Internet experience.
The speed differential that the US telecoms want is going to make two road to information: the fast toll road that they sanction and the slow road that we suffer under. Google spurred this change: their bandwidth hungry services gave the telecomms the excuse to push for an alternative. In the end, Google may benefit the most: they have long been looking for a way to omit low quality data and low quality users from their factoring. If a premium Internet comes, then those users come pre-qualified as spenders. Google / AdWords loves the spenders. There are cheap people who surf around on library connections and open wifi. They don't click. There is this other category of users-- consumers-- who are willing to spend. When they hit the Burma-Shave highway of Google Ads, they are more likely to click on the ads and drive revenue to Google. Google hates the non-clickers: they make up 99.9% of the people hitting a site. That said, Google has been an Internet success story even with a 99.9% failure rate. If they can suck through 1% of the traffic, it would be grand for them. They will complain and shakes their fists, but at the end of the day, Google is just as corporate and money hungry as Microsoft, Facebook or AT&T. As good libertarians, Google will push for net neutrality. But in fairness to their stockholders, they will go with the current and work to capitalize on what a non-anonymous Internet full of monitoring and quality consumers will do for them.
When this tiered and monitored Internet comes into full swing, there will be a tidy corporate Internet with video and flashy lights and seedy underbelly. The seedy underbelly has always been there, just one link further than you usually may go. The spiffy Internet will have virus checking and all manner of defenses; while the dark side of the Internet will be full of pop-ups and malware. Good news for Norton and the paid version of AVG: all those malicious sites and viruses need a virus checker.
When someone wants something banned, all they will soon need to do is get the attention of a handful or corporations and suddenly, the information will be as easily blotted as a Chinese democracy march. If you get Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Yahoo to block something, you will be hard pressed to see that information. Look at Wikileaks: Twitter prevented the topic from trending; Wikipedia removed links to Wikileaks data; and Time Magazine shelved Assange behind Zuckerberg's hoodie. This concentration of popularity combined with a new entitlement by the telecomms, means that the information you will be getting will be carefully monitored and controlled. If someone sics lawyers onto a string of websites, those take-down notices will banish the information from the Internet. It will be like Winston Smith upping the chocolate ration from 15 grams up to 10 grams.
You can avoid the close scrutiny of the corporate commandeered Internet; and you can fish for the real data or previous incarnations. There are technical ways to avoid most of... this, but the rank-and-file Internet users will not be able to deploy those, so most people will get a sanitized and heavily monitored experience carried out as an advertising vehicle.
With most net users using Facebook, the honesty-through-anonymity of the Internet is effectively gone. In lieu of a government run Big Brother who could be influenced through democratic processes; we have Zuckerberg. There's one difference between Big Zuckerberg and Big Brother: Big Brother made you surrender your information against your will; on Facebook, you gleefully surrender, what you're doing, who you know and where you're doing it. All of that data and those social interactions are key for dialing in who you are and what it will take to make you spend. Orwell's Big Brother is a bad choice for an antagonist. His face looked over throngs of poor and oppressed people who spent weeks using the same razor. How can the Politburo ever get rich off of those dreary masses? You need a teeming and dynamic group of children who want new toys, new feelies to watch and a string of distractions. You want those children of all ages to be good little consumers. To do that, you both want to know what they Like and you want to get that information with the littlest effort possible-- it would be best if they just volunteered that information of their own accord. It would be best, if they checked in at regular intervals with a concise status update-- ideally one of a 140 characters or less.
If I valued my friends less than I hated Facebook, I would ditch Facebook in a second. As it is, you will never see me write a FB "note" and I am unlikely to look at them when written by others. Their role used to be filled by blog posts and the real Internet.
Well, the real Internet of today. As it is, this being written on one of Google's most popular products: Blogger. I could post this on one of my personal sites, but I opted not to do that. I like that Google manages the bandwidth costs and server issues. I don't get a snarky phone call at 5AM saying that my blog is down. Google makes it easy for me to write and publish content. You couldn't ask for more out of a Big Brother.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Get your Groupon

Do you want to make money from Groupon? Here's how:
Go to Commission Junction and apply to an account
Go to Groupon, create an account and get an API key.
Use the code below (feel free to alter and expand-- consider it totally GPL) on your PHP driven site.